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High-tech search for Malaysia Airlines passenger plane ends in disappointment

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The mystery of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 endures. The latest privately funded search for the missing aircraft came to an end this week after more than four months scouring an area of interest in the southern Indian Ocean. MH370 disappeared with 239 passengers and crew during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8, 2014.

The cause of the Boeing 777’s disappearance is still unknown, and while several parts of the aircraft have shown up on several shorelines in the intervening years, the main section of the aircraft remains missing despite search efforts.

Ocean Infinity search

Keen for answers to the mystery, and to recover the bodies of the passengers and crew, the Malaysian government struck a deal with U.S. seabed exploration firm Ocean Infinity at the start of 2018 to embark on a new exploration effort using its powerful search technology. The onset of winter weather has brought the search to an end, with the company saying on Tuesday that it had failed to find any sign of the aircraft. During the course of the operation, Ocean Infinity searched more than 43,000 square miles (112,000 square km) of ocean floor using high-definition (HD) cameras.

“Part of our motivation for renewing the search was to try to provide some answers to those affected,” Ocean Infinity CEO Oliver Plunkett said in a statement. “It is therefore with a heavy heart that we end our current search without having achieved that aim.” The CEO added that there “has not been a subsea search on this scale carried out as efficiently or as effectively ever before.”

Seabed search

Operating from its main multi-purpose ship, Ocean Infinity used a number of autonomous vehicles for its underwater searches, including six machines capable of operating at a depth of 6,000 meters while collecting HD imagery from even further down. Six unmanned surface vehicles worked with the submersibles to help the team maintain precise positioning and constant communication during the meticulous seabed search.

This was the first time for Ocean Infinity to try to find a missing plane, though its experience in using its deep-sea technology for operations such as seabed mapping and imaging, marine geological surveys, and environmental monitoring provided it with valuable knowledge for its most ambitious project to date. Previous efforts to track down the plane included a multinational search carried out by Malaysia, China, and Australia, but it was called off at the start of 2017 after failing to make any significant finds. Such was Ocean Infinity’s confidence, it agreed to conduct its mission on a “no find, no fee” basis.

It was set to receive as much as £70 million if it found MH370, but the Texas-based firm will now have to cover all of its costs.

But Plunkett hasn’t entirely given up on the idea of one day resuming the hunt for the missing plane, saying, “We sincerely hope that we will be able to again offer our services in the search for MH370 in [the] future.”

Relatives of those on board the fateful flight are continuing to press the Malaysian government to resume the search when better weather returns later in the year, though at the current time there are no plans to do so.

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